How to answer the questions in: online tests
Large employers usually ask you to fill in an online application form as the first stage of their recruitment process for management and leadership graduate programmes. What this involves will vary. Some will present you with a very brief form with your contact and key biographical details before sending you through to a suite of online ability tests or games-based recruitment exercises. If successful, you will usually be asked to undertake a video interview.
Other employers will have longer forms, requiring you to fill in personal and contact details and your work experience history and (sometimes) to upload a CV before answering a series of application questions. Only then are you usually sent through to undertake online ability tests.
How to answer management training scheme application questions
Typically you’ll be allowed 200–300 words per question; the onus is on you to convince the recruiter that you’re capable of leading your own team.
You need to write about what you find exciting about the sector that you are interested in. Start by reflecting on whether you think that what it does is important and why that is. For example, a graduate on the local government management scheme, the national graduate development programme, has told us that they applied because they had a genuine interest in the roll out of adult social care and disability policies.
Show that you have considered the nature of working life within the sectors. If it’s a construction management role, for example, you could show that the buzz you’d get from seeing a project take shape around you offsets the need to work outside in all weathers. Or if it's a job in tourism you could point out that your passion for travel means that you are willing to relocate to different resorts if required.
Depending on the role, you could also demonstrate your commercial awareness in this question. If you are attracted to working in the industry because it is essential to the national or global economy, because it is growing or because it is in the vanguard of bringing about social change (for example, technological changes have transformed the way we live our lives), you could say so and give some examples of the trends in that industry. After all, the best graduate managers are business-minded. Take a look at our advice feature on developing commercial awareness for help with this.
Recruiters want to make sure that you are genuinely interested working for them, as opposed to any other company. You'll need to give specific reasons for wanting to work for each company you apply to; recruiters can recognise copied and pasted answers a mile off, so write a fresh answer to this question. Things to write about could include:
- What does the company do and does it do it well? If you are attracted by working on its projects or because it is a leader in its field, explain why.
- The graduate scheme structure. How many rotations are there, for example, and do you get to choose your placements? What makes you want a place on this particular scheme?
- What does the company say about its culture? It will help your application if you can convincingly argue that you want to work for the organisation because you would fit in with its culture.
- Will the employer provide support if you want to (or have to) work towards a professional qualification?
- What opportunities are there for promotion and progression? What have other graduates gone on to do? If the development opportunities match your ambitions, say so.
The question is as much about you as it is about the company. Explain what you want out of your employer and how the training scheme would help you develop as a leader. Take a look at our employer hubs for information about individual employers and their recruitment processes.
Broad questions about your suitability for management give you a chance to tell the recruiter about any management skills and experience that haven’t been covered in other parts of the form. Recruiters will want to know that you are personable, but also that you’re capable of laying down the law when necessary. They’ll be looking for people who are good at planning projects, making decisions, motivating people and dealing with clients. They’ll want managers who can take the initiative and make decisions. Pull out examples from your degree course, part-time work and extracurricular activities. For example, can you think of a time at work when your manager was away and you stepped up to take charge of a tricky situation? If so, you can use that to show that you are decisive and that you can use your initiative.
Typical questions about your skills, also known as competency questions, include:
- Tell us about a time when you had success in building team spirit.
- Please describe a time when you have been responsible for sticking to a budget.
- Please give an example of a time when you led a team to achieve a ‘big result’.
- Please detail information about how you believe you have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills in your work, academic or social life.
Step one: break down the skills they’re really asking about
All of the above questions focus on a particular aspect of management and require a number of skills. The question about building team spirit is partly designed to work out whether you have the emotional intelligence and influencing skills to motivate different people to work towards a common goal, for example, while the question about sticking to a budget seeks to discover whether you’re numerate, disciplined and capable of prioritising. When answering these types of questions, identify the individual skills being asked about and weave them into your answer.
Step two: think about leadership more broadly
If asked about leadership, bear in mind that is, in fact, a collection of skills and abilities:
- Understanding and knowing what you are trying to achieve (your target/objective)
- Planning ways to achieve your goal, taking into account any obstacles or constraints and identifying where you need expert or outside assistance
- Allocating tasks appropriately among yourself and others: making decisions and implementing them
- Giving clear direction and encouraging communication
- Monitoring progress, intervening when necessary but also trusting others to use their judgment
- Inspiring others
- Giving feedback and showing appreciation
- Meeting deadlines.
What makes exceptional leadership? Ultimately, it comes down to what you achieved. Exceptional leadership involves you reaching – or, if possible, over-delivering on – your initial goal. But it also involves ‘softer’, more subjective results. How successful were you as a people leader? Did your team work well together? How did you handle any problems or conflict? Did your team develop their own skills and abilities? Did they feel appreciated? Put simply: are your team still talking to you and would they work with you again?
Step three: choose the best example
When answering these questions, be discerning about the example you choose: one where you made an impact on the results and you had to use a range of skills . If possible, pick something relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Step four: follow that CAR!
Use the CAR model (circumstances, action, results) to structure your answers. Say you organised a competition to raise funds for a student society. The CIRCUMSTANCE could be that you had a time limit of one month and you had to work alongside the social secretary and general secretary to plan your competition. Next, you should explain the ACTION that you took. Did you find any sponsors and how did you decide what to charge for entry? Were there any competing priorities or disagreements within the team? If so, how did you deal with these? Finally, what was the end RESULT? Did the competition run smoothly? Did you achieve your aim – to raise money? Were there any unforeseen challenges you had to overcome? Was there anything you should have done differently? What did you learn about your leadership style and what managerial skills did you develop in the process?
Recruiters essentially use online ability tests and games-based tasks as a sifting tool: it is a way of quickly checking whether you have the basic skills required for the role. The most common online ability tests that trainee management candidates include situational judgement tests (in which you select from multiple choice options how you would respond to a specific scenario), numeracy, verbal reasoning and critical thinking tests. Games-based exercises will vary according to the employer: some are very similar to the ability tests.
To give yourself the best chance of success, become familiar with the tests and practise taking them. First read our guide to the different online tests and our tips on handling games-based exercises. Then head over to our partner AssessmentDay, which offers a range of free and paid-for tests.
Reaching the end: do a final check
Before you submit your form, review it to make sure that all fields have been filled out correctly. Ask someone to proofread it. When reviewing your application answers, check them for tone, style and coherence; the ability to communicate in a clear, professional manner is important in any managerial role. Is the tone sufficiently formal? Have you answered the questions fully and concisely? If you can say yes to all of the above, then you should be in with an excellent chance of getting the job.